Migrants and refugees in Libya face crimes against humanity: ICC must investigate, EU must stop support

Human rights groups in collaboration with survivors file Communication to the ICC and issue report

Berlin/The Hague/London/Paris, 23 November 2021 – Today, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL), in collaboration with survivors, have filed a Communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on grave crimes committed against migrants and refugees in Libya which may amount to crimes against humanity. They urgently demand: the ICC must investigate the responsibility of armed groups, militias and Libyan state actors involved in the commission of such crimes including arbitrary detention, torture, murder, persecution, sexual violence and enslavement. The Communication names 19 alleged Libyan perpetrators including well-known militia chiefs. The ICC has to hold those responsible to account and put an end to these widespread and systematic crimes.

In addition, the organizations today published a joint report, including first-hand accounts of survivors. The report offers an analysis of the findings on crimes against humanity as presented in the ICC Communication and examines the EU policies designed to prevent migrants and refugees from reaching Europe through Libya. It argues: EU policies have trapped migrants and refugees in Libya and thus significantly contribute to this grave situation.

"In Libya, migrants experience crimes that traumatize them even until today and many lives have been lost. The truth about these crimes needs to be known and perpetrators must be held accountable. I believe in the defense of human rights and this is why I support the legal action at the ICC"

Eric, a survivor from Cameroon who fled through Libya between December 2015 and January 2017

Both the report and the ICC Communication are based on extensive interviews with 14 survivors now located in safe locations outside Libya, as well as comprehensive research and reviews of reports by the UN and civil society organizations. The findings show: Thousands of migrants and refugees travelling through Libya are subject to a continuous cycle of abuse that is both widespread and systematic. As Libyan state and non-state actors take advantage of the vulnerable situation of those seeking safety or better opportunities, this exploitation through detention, enslavement, extortion and torture has become an important source of revenue in Libya’s conflict economy. The ICC Communication analyses the crimes committed and highlights the individual responsibility of high-ranking perpetrators.

"The extreme scale, systemic nature, and seriousness of the abuses suffered by migrants and refugees in Libya trigger ICC jurisdiction. Our analysis of reliable open-source information and survivor testimonies clearly shows that many of these abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Dorine Llanta, from the Permanent representation of FIDH to the ICC

For the past 10 years the ICC has been investigating the situation in Libya without opening a case on crimes against migrants and refugees. Today, for the 22nd time, the ICC Prosecutor is briefing the UN Security Council on the progress of this investigation.

“Despite strong calls by the former ICC Prosecutor to finally address the impunity in Libya, the crimes continueWe strongly believe that only the ICC can address the complexity of the criminal system aimed at exploiting the human suffering of the migrants and refugees in Libya. We therefore call the current Prosecutor, Mr Karim Khan, to finally take the necessary steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Chantal Meloni, Senior Legal Advisor at ECCHR

Despite knowledge of international crimes to which migrants and refugees are subjected in Libya, the EU has furthered efforts to externalise its borders and contain migrants there. It also supports the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) through training and financial support allowing to intercept and return those seeking to escape – even though the LCG is also known to commit human rights violations.

"While this problem is not new, since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in 2011 and the outbreak of the conflict, the scale of abuses against refugees and migrants in Libya has reached shocking proportions. The Libyan state must take responsibility for these grave crimes committed against those on its territory and take serious steps to bring an end to the cycle of abuse that prevails and remains unaccounted for in Libya"

Marwa Mohamed, Head of Advocacy and Outreach at LFJL

The public report thus calls on the EU and European states to immediately stop returns to Libya, comply with their international obligations and suspend all forms of support and assistance to Libyan authorities in relation to migration management policies. Further support to Libyan authorities must be conditional upon the provision of sufficient guarantees to ensure that the human rights of refugees and migrants are protected and that an adequate asylum system is established to uphold the right to international protection in Libya.

• Find the executive summary of the ICC Communication here.
• Find the report “No way out: Migrants and refugees trapped in Libya face crimes against humanity” here.
• Find the interactive representation of survivor Tesfay’s journey here.
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